Friday, April 16, 2021

Tarot Tales: N is for Nine of...

Welcome to the 2021 A to Z Blogging Challenge! My theme this year is Tarot Tales. I am making a selection of folktales, legends, and other traditional stories that correspond to tarot cards. Storytelling and tarot go well together. Do other stories come to mind? Let me know in the comments!

This is once again an unconventional Minor Arcana post. I am picking four tales for the four Nine cards in the tarot deck. I have struggled with the Nines, because they are not easy for me to grasp in concrete terms, but I am trying my best.

Nine of Wands

Nine of Wands is exhausted but not broken. It is a card about still standing after going through a lot. It is about resilience, overcoming obstacles, standing your ground and not giving up. It is also about boundaries - the boundaries that protect you, that you have fought hard for. They keep others from bringing you down, even when it feels like everything is testing your resilience.

In this tale, a girl's Destiny appears to her in the shape of an eagle, and asks her if she wants to be fortunate when she is young, or when she is old. She chooses fortune for her old age - which means misfortune plagues her while she is young. The eagle follows her everywhere, and messes up whatever she tries to achieve. She goes through a lot, gets kicked out of all her jobs, until finally she manages to find a place as a servant in a king's palace. In her most desperate moment, her misfortune finally breaks, and she ends up marrying a prince.
This tale type has many other variants. You can read one here, or here, or here. It's tale type ATU 938A.

Nine of Swords

This is not a nice card. It is about anxiety, fears, worries, and all those other dark things that literally keep you up at night. It is despair, lack of self-confidence, and haunting thoughts. 

A princess dies of a broken heart, and demands that someone should guard her crypt every night. However, each guard is found dead in the morning. Turns out the princess transformed into a monster who crawls out of her coffin at night to eat people. One brave man volunteers to spend three nights in the cathedral where she is buried. On the first two, he hides in various places, terrified she'd find him; on the third, he jumps into her coffin and locks himself in. She screams and scratches the lid all night, but he holds out. By morning, the curse is broken.
Yes, you know this one from The Witcher. I always thought this folktale is about anxiety. Folktale type ATU 307.

Nine of Cups

This one is also known as the wish card. It is about wishes coming true. It is about satisfaction, blessings, happiness, gratitude, living your best life, having it all. I wanted to find a story that has a water element (Cups), a wish, and a content happy ending.

A king is searching for someone who would bring water from a magic lake to cure his sick son. Two young men set out but they fail. Eventually, their little sister sets out on a journey too, and with the help of her pet llama and some grateful birds, she manages to find a lake. The birds make her a magic fan from their feathers, a fan that fulfills her every which. At the lake, she uses it to defeat a giant crab, an alligator, and a flying serpent. She takes the water to the king in a golden jar. In return, the king grats her three wishes. She receives a large farm for her family, and lives happily ever after. The ever-full golden jar keeps the royals healthy and safe.
(You can also read the story here or here, or find a lovely Spanish telling here.

Nine of Pentacles

If Cups is about wishes, this one is about wealth. It is about having financial security, the ability to enjoy the fruits of your hard work. It is a card for luxury and comfort. It also usually depicts a woman surrounded by nature, enjoying her life. It's the treat yourself card.

A poor widow supports herself and her three sons from her weaving. One day she sees a beautiful painting of a palace with gardens, and she decides to weave it into a brocade, escaping into the beautiful imaginary world while she works. When the brocade is finally finished, the winds picks it up and carries it away, and the widow, after so much work, falls ill from disappointment. Her sons set out to find the brocade, but only the youngest succeeds; he finds it in a palace of fairies, where they are busy copying it. He takes the brocade home - and when he unfolds it, it comes to life, providing a gorgeous garden and a palace for the widow (and a fairy wife for her son). They live happily ever after.

If you could have a wish, what would you wish for? If you had the resources, what would you treat yourself to? What keeps you going when times are hard?

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Tarot Tales: M is for The Magician

Welcome to the 2021 A to Z Blogging Challenge! My theme this year is Tarot Tales. I am making a selection of folktales, legends, and other traditional stories that correspond to tarot cards. Storytelling and tarot go well together. Do other stories come to mind? Let me know in the comments!

The card: The Magician

Meanings: This card speaks for itself. It is about power, knowledge, energy, and action. This person has all the tools and resources to turn ideas into reality. He is a master of what he's doing. It is a card full of confidence. He's got this.

Selection process: World folklore is teeming with magicians of all kinds - this was another one of those too many to choose from situations. Once again it would have been easy to pick Merlin. I wanted to pick someone equally legendary and powerful, but from outside of Europe.

The story: Abe no Seimei

Origin: Japan

Abe no Seimei in a game 
called Onmyoji
Abe no Seimei is a very famous onmyoji (diviner and magician) in Japanese lore, who was originally a real historical figure from the 10th century. There are many legends about him, and he's even transferred into popular media. 
According to the stories, Abe no Seimei was only half human: his mother was a kitsune, a fox spirit, who fell in love with a mortal man. Their son had supernatural powers from an early age, he could see hidden things (like his mother's true nature), and command spirits. When he grew up, he became a powerful diviner and magician. He even understood the language of animals.
In one story, Abe no Seimei saves the emperor from a fox maiden named Tamamo no Mae, who lives in his court in the disguise of a concubine, and makes the emperor sick. In another legend, he helps the samurai Watanabe no Tsuna in defeating a terrible demon
One of the most famous legends, however, deal with the divination duel between Abe no Seimei and his rival Ashiya Douman. Over the course of this challenge, Abe no Seimei even summons a dragon, and with its help creates a flood that almost drowns his rival. Later, they both have to guess the contents of a box that was buried. Douman guesses correctly (fifteen oranges), but Abe no Seimei guesses fifteen rats... and then uses his powers to turn the oranges into rats. 

Sources & notes: See the links above. You can also read about Abe no Seimei in this fascinating book.

Runner-ups: I was also seriously considering Vergilius (who in medieval legends transformed from Roman poet into a powerful wizard), Taliesin the Welsh bard, Don Juan de Salamanca the Spanish wizard, a host of Icelandic wizard legends, the red princess' story from Nizami, Kampó the Hungarian wizard, and even Prince Ariel from Madame D'Aulnoy's fairy tales.

Who is your favorite wizard or magician from folklore, from history, or from modern popular culture?

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Tarot Tales: L is for The Lovers

Welcome to the 2021 A to Z Blogging Challenge! My theme this year is Tarot Tales. I am making a selection of folktales, legends, and other traditional stories that correspond to tarot cards. Storytelling and tarot go well together. Do other stories come to mind? Let me know in the comments!

The card: The Lovers

Meanings: This card symbolizes the obvious: love, attraction, passion, romance, relationships, and following your heart. But it also broader than that, because it is connected to all kinds of meaningful relationships, harmony and communication, respect, and two forces coming together in a powerful union. In addition, this card is often used to symbolize choices and decisions, acting in accordance with your own values and beliefs, having integrity, and doing the right thing.

Selection process: The RWS Lovers card has very biblical imagery, with Adam and Eve and the angel and the serpent on the tree. I was looking for something less... biblical, and also something that makes a better love story. To make it extra difficult, I also wanted a tale that is about making choices. I finally decided on one of my favorite love stories in world folklore.

The story: The Pale Mountains (a.k.a. Prince of the Dolomites)

Origin: Italian, Tyrolean, Ladin

Summary: A prince falls in love with the moon, and pines away all his life wishing to reach it. One day he gets lost in the mountains, and in a dream he sees a radiant, beautiful girl who claims to be the daughter of the Moon King. The prince hands her a red flower, but when he wakes up, the girl is nowhere to be seen. 
Seeking the Moon Princess, the prince climbs the mountain with a bouquet of flowers, and encounters two old men who turn out to be citizens of the moon, on their way home. The prince begs them to take him along. They all fly up to she moon on a cloud, where the prince can finally meet the princess. They fall in love, get married, and live happily... for a while. The light of the moon is so radiant up close, however, that the mortal prince begins to go blind. He has to return to earth, and he takes his wife along. 
Once again, they are happy for a while; the princess plants moon flowers (edelweiss) all around, and she loves the people and colors of earth. However, she soon grows depressed and homesick, because the mountains seem dark and menacing to her. Eventually she has to go back home to heal; her husband follows her, but once again he begins to grow blind. The royal couple gives up hope of being together, and the prince, heartbroken, returns to earth alone.
Plot twist! The prince meets a band of Dwarves in the mountains, who are refugees from a war far East. Their king promises that if they can settle in the kingdom, they will help him. The prince convinces his father to give the high mountains to the Dwarves (since humans don't really go there anyway). In return, the Dwarves spin moonlight, and cover the rocks with it, turning the range of the Dolomites from dark grey to pale pastel colors - as they are to this very day. The Moon Princess can now happily return to earth, and live with her husband among the radiant mountains. 

Sources & notes: Read the story in this book, or here, or here.

Runner-ups: I was also considering some of my favorite feminist love stories, such as the Wooing of Pumei or Herburt and Hild. But since I already blogged about those, I wanted something new.

Have you ever been to the Dolomites? Would you like to visit now that you know the story? :)

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Tarot Tales: K is for Kings and Knights

Welcome to the 2021 A to Z Blogging Challenge! My theme this year is Tarot Tales. I am making a selection of folktales, legends, and other traditional stories that correspond to tarot cards. Storytelling and tarot go well together. Do other stories come to mind? Let me know in the comments!

This post is the first one about the Minor Arcana. So, instead of one card, I'll be focusing on eight: four Kings, and four Knights. Comments will be shorter, but since Kings and Knights are very common in folklore, the selection process was also a lot easier. 
(If you have suggestions for Kings and Knights from more non-European cultures, let me know!)

CUPS (emotions, water)

King of Cups: Zal (Persia)

The King of Cups is emotionally mature, compassionate, caring, and kind. He is diplomatic, intuitive, warm-hearted, and an excellent mentor. For these reasons I chose my favorite hero from the Persian Book of Kings, Zal. Born with white hair, Zal was put out into the mountains by his father to die, but the mythical Simurgh bird raised him. As an adult, he returned to his kingdom and became a wise, level-headed and diplomatic ruler - and a kind and loving father to one of the greatest Persian heroes, Rostam. He also has a gorgeous love story.

Knight of Cups: Oisín (Ireland & Scotland)

This is my favorite guy in the deck. Romantic, creative, charming, and on top of that just as caring, kind, and compassionate as the King. He is all about beauty and love, all heart and imagination. He is the downright knight in shining armor. I chose another old favorite of mine: Oisín (or Ossian), the famous bard of Irish and Scottish legends. Oisín is the son of the legendary hero Fionn Mac Cumhail, part human, part fae. He is the odd one out of the rowdy warriors of the Fianna, more a musician and a diplomat than a fighter (although he can definitely hold his own in an adventure). He is most famous from the love story where he runs away with the Queen of the Land of Youth.

WANDS (action, fire)

King of Wands: Setuli, King of the Birds (Eswatini)

This king is THE King. He is a true leader, a great role model. He takes on challenges, defeats obstacles, makes dreams into reality. He is a visionary, all energy, action and innovation. If I was going to put Arthur in the deck, this would be him - but I wanted to pick someone less obvious. So, let me introduce you to Setuli, King of Birds, from the tales of Eswatini. He is born deaf and mute, but when his magician brother takes him into the wilderness, he meets a wise old woman and she helps him gain magic powers through his own bravery and determination. Setuli then uses his new powers to turn birds into people, and sets out on a journey. He ends up breaking a curse on another kingdom, and those people join him too; he defeats monsters and makes daring plans, and in the end he lives happily ever after as the ruler of a prosperous land. 

Knight of Wands: Astolfo (Italy)

This Knight is daring, enthusiastic, and passionate. He has a lot of energy to go around: he gets into spontaneous adventures, sweeps damsels off their feet, helps out friends, goes on quests, makes magic happen. He has as much charm as Cups, but in a less dreamy and more adventurous way. For these reasons I chose Astolfo, one of the heroes of the Italian epic Orlando Furioso. He is an English prince, one of Charlemagne's paladins, most famous for riding the first hippogriff recorded in legends! After rescuing the magic steed from a wizard, he flies it to the Moon to find the lost wits of his friend Orlando. It is quite an adventure story!

SWORDS (intellect, air)

King of Swords: Solomon (Jewish, Christian & Muslim traditions)

This King is all about wisdom, knowledge, and intellect. He makes good, impartial judgment, he is respected and trusted by everyone, and he always finds the truth. He follows logic instead of emotions, and he is good at what he does. He is also a strong authority figure. I thought the legendary King Solomon would be a good fit for this card. Recently I was doing some research on Solomon's judgment (the baby-cutting-in-half thing), and it is a lot deeper than most people realize.

Knight of Swords: Mercury Ali (1001 Nights)

Knight of Swords is a bundle of energy and intellect. He is unstoppable, always up for a challenge, good with words, and usually the smartest person in the room (sometimes annoyingly so). He is all about action and winning (I love it that Telluric Tarot symbolizes him with the coffee plant). Now, I could have picked a lot of heroes for this one, but I wanted to highlight the intellect part. So instead of a knight I chose a trickster: the infamous Mercury Ali from the 1001 Nights. He is a legendary rogue from Cairo, who travels to Bagdad and gets into an endless prank war with a clever lady named Zaynab. He goes through many adventures, sometimes fighting with wits, and sometimes with a magic spear, until he can marry his lady love.
(CW: this story has a few seriously problematic parts, but in my opinion none of them are essential to the plot, and can be easily skipped.)

PENTACLES (material things, earth)

King of Pentacles: Laurin (Germany)

This King symbolizes wealth, abundance, and material security. He is grounded, respected, traditional, and successful in making his domain flourish. He is also kind of a fatherly figure and a family man. I immediately thought King Laurin would be a good fit. In German legends he is the Dwarf king of the mountains of Tyrol. He reigns over a wealthy underground kingdom full of treasures, and has a beautiful rose garden in the mountains. He features into a long and amazing legend about the struggle between humans and Dwarves.

Knight of Pentacles: Kay the Senechal (Britain)

He is not a very knightly Knight. This guy is about hard work, planning, and practical things. He is patient, responsible, reliable, persistent, and honorable. He is also, to me, one of my favorite knights from Arthurian legends: Sir Kay the Senechal. Kay is generally known for his sharp tongue and grumpy demeanor (and for being King Arthur's mean foster brother), but behind the scenes, he is the one that keeps the lights on in Camelot. In the old Welsh legends he literally keeps everyone warm by the heat radiating from his body. He might not be a good fighter, or a romantic hero, but he keeps all of them housed, clothed, and fed. You're welcome. 

Who are your favorite heroes, kings, and knights in shining armor?
(And don't worry, we'll get to the queens too!)

Monday, April 12, 2021

Tarot Tales: J is for Judgement

Welcome to the 2021 A to Z Blogging Challenge! My theme this year is Tarot Tales. I am making a selection of folktales, legends, and other traditional stories that correspond to tarot cards. Storytelling and tarot go well together. Do other stories come to mind? Let me know in the comments!

The card: Judgement

Meanings: Judgement has to do with stepping into a new phase, another level of consciousness; of making a life-changing decision and finding your true self and calling. It also deals with releasing old things, past wounds, regret and guilt. It is about debts (both paying and letting go), self-reflection, and awakening to personal truths. It is a card of things coming to light, even though (or maybe because) in the past mistakes have been made.

Selection process: Okay so I struggle with this card a lot, and I think I'm not alone. I also struggled with trying to find a story that fits such an abstract concept (as long as I did not want to settle for the obvious "Last Judgment"). In the end, it was the "past mistakes" and the "coming to light" part that led me to this tale, which is one of my all-time favorites. 

The story: Aicha's tasks on earth

Origin: Algeria

A merchant has a brave, clever, and talented daughter, Aicha. A prince proposes to marry her, but with a clever ruse she reveals that he is a coward and a liar, and rejects the marriage. Early on in the story she defeats a man-eating ghoul that tries to kill her family, but she doesn't check to see if she'd burnt the body thoroughly enough. A leftover splinter of the ghoul's bone wounds her, and curses her: she has to keep traveling the world without rest. Aicha turns the curse to her advantage, and sets out to kill monsters and slay demons all over the place. She unveils mysteries, helps people, and chases enemies away. After many adventures (she even runs into Sindbad once), she finally gets rid of the literal demon on her shoulder, and becomes a great queen. 
(I also wrote about her in my StorySpotting series)

Sources & notes: Read here. I also included the first half in my book about superpowers in folktales.

Runner-ups: Kadyr's fortune, a Kazakh tale about a man in search of his luck, who makes a lot of foolish mistakes along the way, but eventually learns to recognize his good fortune. I was also thinking of King Lindworm, where a dragon-prince is transformed into true royalty through trial and error.

What would you do if you had to constantly travel all your life?

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Cool stories from a tiny country (Following folktales 197. - Brunei)

Today I continue the blog series titled Following folktales around the world! If you would like to know what the series is all about, you can find the introduction post here. You can find all posts here, or you can follow the series on Facebook!

Dusun Folktales
A collection of eighty-eight folktales in the Dusun language of Brunei with English translations
Eva Maria Kershaw
University of Hawaii, 1994.

This book was a slow read, mostly because it is three hundred pages long (even if half of it is in Dusun). It looks hand-typed and I could only get it through inter-library loan, but it was still a fascinating read. The mirror translation did not always explain details in the stories, but there were some very helpful footnotes. The book contains 88 folktales from the Dusun, an indigenous group from Borneo. This was the only folktale collection from Brunei I could find. According to the author at the time of the collecting the Brunei government did not support the teaching of indigenous languages, or the preservation of their customs. Hence the bilingual volume that hoped to give the tales back to their community. At the time of its publication (1994) they projected that the Dusun language would disappear within 50 years.
Since this is a folklore publication, the tales are translated word for word, without censorship, including the adult and erotic themes.


The myth about how people asked to die was very interesting; it was a rare story where death was not a mistake, or divine punishment, but rather something humans asked from the gods, to stop the world from being overpopulated. There was a beautiful nature myth too, about how the dollarbird brings fruit season every year to Borneo.
The tale of Princess Boar was a fascinating story about a hunter who ventured into the land of boars where the animals live as humans. He became a healer, and learned that his prey had feelings too. His brother, who was less kind-hearted, met a violent end. 
There was a very cool fight scene where twins with supernatural powers used a giant, bladed spinning top to kill a man-eating giant eagle. Also, a clever girl who disguised herself as an old woman by borrowing features from various animals (e.g. red eyes, thick thighs, white hair). There was Camphor Woman (camphor apparently was an important part of Dusun trade), and I learned that many stories feature five siblings because they are named after the five fingers (to make a storyteller's job easier...). 
The most important tidbit I learned, however, is the sound you hear when someone is kicked in the face by a tortoise. It sounds like this:

(According to the English translation, anyway.)


I loved the Dusun variant of the Brementown musicians. It featured a piece of excrement that set out on an adventure; floating down the river it imagined itself to be a pirate, and with the help of a scorpion and a centipede managed to scare the hell out of a household of people.
After China and Myanmar there was once again a tale about a girl who married a giant serpent, and was swallowed on the wedding night. There were kinder serpent husbands, and girls born from lemons as well among the classic tale types.
My personal favorite was Miss Buncu in the land of the tani dogs, a Dusun variant of the Kind and Unkind Girls tale type. Tani dogs are somewhat disgusting, man-eating creatures, who nonetheless treated their human guest in a very kind and friendly manner, as long as she did not make fun of their food (worms for rice, ears for mushrooms, etc.). They even made sure she got a different "vegan" menu. 
Obviously there were many Mouse Deer tales, some nicer than others (I was not happy when Mouse Deer raped someone). 

Where to next?
The Philippines!

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Tarot Tales: I is for Illusion (The Moon)

Welcome to the 2021 A to Z Blogging Challenge! My theme this year is Tarot Tales. I am making a selection of folktales, legends, and other traditional stories that correspond to tarot cards. Storytelling and tarot go well together. Do other stories come to mind? Let me know in the comments!

The card: The Moon

Meanings: The Moon is a card of shadowy things, things that can't quite be seen. It is about anxiety, deception, and foreboding. But it is also about intuition, illusions, mystery, and hidden truths. It is about things not always being what they seem; about caution, fearing the unknown, and moving through uncertain times. Through the role of the Moon in folklore, it is connected to ritual and divine guidance.

Selection process: Despite all the millions of tales about the Moon out there, this one was an easy choice. From the moment I first read about the Moon card, this was the story that immediately came to mind. 

The story: The Buried Moon

Origin: England

The Moon decides to come down to earth one night to see all the things her light protects people from. Whenever she shines in the sky, she chases away the Things that live in the bogs and marshlands and threaten people in the dark. As she walks around the bog, she slips into a pool and gets caught by the creatures. While she struggles, a mortal man comes along, and to warn him of the danger, the Moon throws back her hood and shines her light around. The man escapes, but the Moon remains trapped. Before the sun rises, the Things roll a big rock over her to keep her from returning to the sky.
When the Moon remains lost for several nights, people begin to worry. What will happen to then at night if her light never returns? Eventually the man who escaped the bog tells the others about the light he'd seen. Following a wise woman's advice people set out into the bog to find and rescue the Moon. They do so together, and the Moon flies back to the sky, chasing the Things away with her radiant light. 

Sources & notes: Read the story here, or the more archaic text here.

Have you ever walked in moonlight at night? What is your favorite thing about the moon?